This last weekend, and a lot of in-depth conversations with my 0-on-the-kinsey-scale very-male-identified-but-not-in-an-obnoxious-bro-way) partner, got me thinking about gender roles, and my longtime struggle with them…
My gender identity is somewhere between male and female, and the pendulum can swing drastically at any point during any given day. As I put it to a friend of mine… Being treated and addressed like “one of the boys” is my happy place. But I’m also really excited to wear a big ‘ol poofy dress and makeup at my wedding. I like wearing both hats. I just want to be equally respected in both hats. And that’s just not a thing… yet.
Because of this I don’t always think about how my actions as someone who presents as female, and forgets to adhere traditional gender roles, can be misconstrued. Which can cause problems…
For example, In my 30+ years on this Earth, I’ve learned that male-identified humans seem to make better friends for me than people who identify as female. We have similar ways of attacking problems, similar ways of showing affection, and similar blind spots when it comes to sensitivity. So when I start friendships, or attempt to become closer to people, I don’t think twice about texting a guy friend late at night. If I’m thinking anything at all it’s “I want to connect with a friend.” But, because of my gender, it could be seen as being “sexually suggestive.” I talk a lot of shit, so when I tease the new guy I see it as me testing their boundaries as I figure out their comfort level. But, because of my vagina-having, others may see that as “flirting.” When I go out of my way to say or do nice things for a buddy, it’s an attempt to make someone feel good about themselves, because I like people to feel happy around me. But I have breasts, so it could also look like I’m “coming on to them.”
This kind of thing has been plaguing me, and women in general, forever.
Growing up I used to rage at gender assumptions made on my behalf. No I don’t want to play with the neighbor’s mean daughter, I want to play with the boy down the street who never makes me feel bad about myself. Why does my brother always get to go to the magical and fascinating hardware store with my dad, and I don’t. Why the fuck is the “girls” aisle in Toys R Us a wall of dizzying purples and pinks? I cursed the day I was born a girl, and wished constantly to be a boy. I pined over gender-neutral names like “Jo” and “Chris.” I dressed “like a boy.” And I even took up hobbies like basketball, which I didn’t even like, just so people could embrace my tomboyishness.
In high school it became worse and incredibly alienating to not see or want to adhere to gender rolls in the normalized fashion. There was the time one of the school counselors called me in for a meeting to tell me that they were “concerned about my behavior” (read: friendship) with boys at school. Mind you, there weren’t that many people who would even talk to an nerd like me, let alone be my friend. So my group of friends consisted of four boys in the grade below mine. They were the nicest, sweetest, most lovable dorks you’d ever meet — they still are. All I remember of that strange and inappropriate conversation is the lady telling me that my behavior with them “could be seen as flitty… flighty… slutty.” And I will never forget the shame I felt in that moment, just for being myself.
I also felt depressed and alienated when I couldn’t go over to my friends’ houses on the weekends, or attend their fun group snowboarding trips just because I was a girl.
If I were straight, cisgender male, all of my “concerning behaviors” would’ve been seen as normal. But since I was female, I was pushed away and slut shamed.
I know that playing around with gender identity is a new concept to most of the population. But gender lines have been fuzzy for as long as humans have been human-ing. Thankfully now terms like cisgender, genderqueer, and non-binary are hastily working their way into the every day lexicon. Hopefully one day we’ll get completely rid of the whole “boys do [this] and girls do [that]” mentality. And just be able to be “humans who do whatever they feel like doing the most.”
Recently, during my bachelor party, I was thinking about gender roles and gender identity — especially when I got looked at funny for calling my thing a “bachelor” party and not a “bachelorette” party. One descriptor felt right for myself, and the other one doesn’t fit at all. It got me thinking that if I had known some of those gender identity terms when I was kid, I may have identified as trans, since I couldn’t remember a time where I didn’t desperately want to be a boy and not a girl. But what I know now is that I don’t wish that I was an actual physical male, I’m glad I am female bodied. I like “being a girl”… but not all the time. So I guess I’d identify as genderqueer. But back when I desperately wanted to “be a boy” instead, what I really desperately wanted was the freedom to do the things I actually liked to do without being held back or shamed.
I saw from an early age, as my anger broiled in the Toys R Us aisle, how confining and unfair gender roles were. And guess what, they still are. But if we stop gendering things that don’t need to be gendered — bathrooms, schools, friendships, parties, topics of conversation — we could save a lot of little kids like me from feeling like they don’t really fit in anywhere. A lot of little genderfluid kids (even while inhabiting adult bodies) would shed a lot less tears.